Friday, February 03, 2012

New sample campaign brief

Well, a little bit unexpectedly, I was asked by an old friend who now lives out of town if I would be interested in "getting the band back together" and running a game online for a variety of now widely scattered friends.  I've done a few online games before, and while they are a challenge in some ways, I've had some success with them.  And with widely separated geography, it's the only way that it would work for us anyway, so it's that or nothing.  He's also run some successful online games himself, but professes to not have time for it currently, so naturally, suspicion fell to me as the next most likely culprit.  I actually think I'll do it.

I don't want to use the campaign brief I just submitted, though, because it's a little bit too similar to another game I already ran for them in a Freeport game, and I want to branch out into slightly different territory.  For this campaign brief, I'm just going to do it as a blog post--actually, below this section of this post--and then cut and paste the same material as a homepage on my campaign wiki.  Campaign what, you may ask?  I'm a huge fan of campaign wikis.  In fact, it was my intention to try and make my second FRPG post of the week about campaign wikis specifically.  Looks like it'll be first up next week.  My weekend's too busy this week to count on it getting done.

Because I've been maundering about with this DARK•HERITAGE setting for so long, naturally I'm itching to make it part of the game.  Since I've already run Freeport for them, Porto Liure seemed a little too familiar.  Instead, I'm going to set the game up north in Hamazi.  Naturally, since Hawaii 5-0 is one of my favorite shows on TV right now, I'm going to name my campaign HAMAZI 5-O and go for the pun.

Now, I've only done some somewhat limited development of that area, although I clearly see it as "core" to the setting, as opposed to some areas that are more "fringe" and may not get developed with any detail anytime soon (if at all.)  So, I've got my work cut out for me a little bit in terms of having something ready to run the game in as a setting.  Fortuitously, I was at the point in my ethnicities of DARK•HERITAGE series that I needed to cover the ethnicities of the Hamazi region (see last post.)

Other than that, what else do I know about the Hamazi region?  Well, Baal Hamazi is kinda sorta my analog to the Points of Light setting fallen empire of Bael Turath.  So, it's the home of the hamazin, which are kinda sorta my analog to tieflings (although frankly, I was more inspired by Darth Maul and the X-men's Nightcrawler than I was by D&D tieflings when I envisioned them.)  It's also the area that I see as my analog to the lost, great American west--its mountains are like the Rockies and the Sierra Nevada, and it's vast deserts are like scenery I've enjoyed in the Colorado Plateau (Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park, the Grand Canyon, etc.) or other scenic desert areas of the American southwest (Big Bend National Park, Saguaro National Park, Joshua Tree National Park, etc.)  It's crawling with critters that used to live there during the Ice Age... but keep in mind that even during the Ice Age, the southwest had pretty mild weather.  Big lakes like Lake Bonneville or Lake Lahontan covered vast stretches of the land, the puny, shrivelled remains of which are the Great Salt Lake and Utah Lake today.  Columbian mammoths, sabertooths, giant American lions, dire wolves, giant long-horned bison in vast herds, two types of native horse/zebra relative and several types of giant sloths to name just a few of the now extinct animals that wandered the land in those days... and therefore wander my setting too.  The very land around them and most of what lives on it is hostile. 

Typical Hamazi countryside
Tribes of hostile natives, dangerous human-sacrificing cults and more make up the dangers that you can expect once you leave one of the several city-states that vie for recognition of the mantle of fallen Baal Hamazi.  The city-states themselves are--naturally--wretched hives of scum and villainy.  Even glittering Simashki itself.  A leader claiming to be Hutran Kutir, the First Hamazin, is building an army in the northwest, and has already taken over two city-states in his march towards the area the player characters will be starting the game.  Politics and intrigue will feature prominantly.  The Cherskii Mafia is more "pure" here--less an organized crime group and more an organized terrorist/revolutionary group, raising the next generation of super-soldier hamazins to rebuild the empire. 

To the south of Hamazi are the northernmost extensions of Terrasan culture, and the east are the Forbidden Lands--overtly Lovecraftian areas of the map.  (Although I haven't posted it yet, because it's hand drawn on posterboard and trying to turn it digital has so far been more difficult than I hoped, I do actually have the entire setting fairly completely mapped out.)

Anyway, without further ado, here's the new campaign brief:

Campaign Brief -- Feb, 2012

Campaign Themes
The Black Company and The Godfather meets Sergio Leone and Pirates of the Caribbean.  Swashbuckling fantasy action meets investigation and horror.  Sword & sorcery on the surface, but just below that, this is Call of Cthulhu. Intrigue and investigation are more important than High Fantasy conventions.  This is sword & sorcery noir, with a strong dose of horror and the occult.  This particular campaign takes place in the northern area of the setting, which is more like the American Old West would have been if sabertooths and mammoths and all that jazz hadn't gone extinct.  Flintlock guns, prides of hungry dire wolves, nihilistic, hidden cults, savage tribesmen amid islands of civilization--the leftovers from a crumbled daemon-touched empire of the past--that's the setting in a nutshell.

Character Creation
Southern humans come in a Mediterranean-type look and feel.  Characters with names that sound Spanish or Italian sound like locals to that area.  Characters who sound like northerners (Viking or Slavic names) are also not unheard of, and characters with an Arabic or Persian name are immigrants, traders and pirates who come from the east.  The local humans, on the other hand, the former underclass in the hellspawn empire, are usually bronzed, with dark brown hair and brown, green or blue eyes.  Like the famous National Geographic afghan girl, if you will.  Their names sound like ancient Middle-eastern names.  In addition to those three broad human culture types, there are a few non-human races that are known in the area, including:
  • Hellspawn, or hamazin.  From the far northern deserts and canyonlands, beyond the sea shores, come the daemon-touched hamazin.  With soot-black or gray skin, dark hair, and a small “crown” of 3-4 inch horns around their heads, their physical appearance is unmistakable.  This is the land where their empire used to stand.  Many of them welcome the newer, more open present, while others pine or plot in bitterness to return to a role of privileged caste.
  • Jann come from the eastern nation of Qizmir, which they founded recently after conquering the kingdoms and hamlets of simple fishermen and farmers who lived in the east.  Claiming that their distant ancestors come from the fabled City of Brass in ancient times before blending with the mortals of this world, the jann have an exotic look to them—brick red skin, pale wispy hair that often resembles a dancing flame, and shining golden eyes like a lion or wolf.  Most of the jann in this area will be exiles or adventurers not well integrated into Qizmiri society, but traders, merchants and diplomats are also not an uncommon sight.
  • Wildmen are people touched with a watered-down and “acceptable” form of lycanthropy.  As the potency of the moon faded in their blood over generations, the wildmen started incorporating more into society.  Their heritage is still evident in their physical forms, however—browned hirsute skin, sharp teeth and small claws, sharp eyes and ears, often hunched posture, as if their loping walk is unnatural and they yearn to drop to all fours.  Many wildmen remain close to nature, and are consummate trackers, scouts and trappers, but increasingly they also serve as muscle for the Cherskii mafia.
Don’t worry about needing to come up with a “balanced party.”  It’s my responsibility to serve up a game appropriate for the characters I have, not the other way around.  The game doesn't have levels, or really much in the way of mechanics per se, but when creating your character, try to think of them as equivalent to a lowish level D&D character in terms of general competency.

The Window.  The game is available 100% for free online, and it has very little in the way of mechanics, which should help it to run more smoothly online, without me having to stop and handle mechanical issues.  The context around which the mechanics are written is bizarrely pretentious, but ignore that and just pay attention to the rules.  Amongst the optional rulesets, the Sanity and Luck ones will be required traits; Magic is optional.  Keep in mind, though, that this is much more influenced by sword & sorcery and dark fantasy than high fantasy; more Call of Cthulhu than D&D.  If you decide to take a magic trait, well expect your character to pay for it in all kinds of fascinating and devastating ways.

People in DARK•HERITAGE are more likely to be superstitious rather than overtly religious.  There are a number of gods and divinities recognized, and it’s important to propitiate them rather than worship them—they don’t care for mortals except to ensure that they give them the proper respect.  The important deities are the Four Horsemen, Ciernavo the Black Pharaoh (conquerer), Peronte the Thunderer (war), Culsans the Miser (famine) and Caronte, the King in Yellow (death).  Other divinities include Istaria, famous for her temple prostitutes, Cathulo, a god sleeping at the bottom of the sea, Susnacco, the ultimate traveler, Selvans, the god of the wilderness, and Moloch, a god of fire and the sun.  A few other gods exist, although propitiation or worship of them is strictly forbidden by law: Demogorgon, a primal god of the earth, Huudrazai, the blind, idiot stargod, and Yaji Ash-Shuthath, known as The Gate, who’s worship leads to nothing but insanity.  The hamazin in particular honor Ciernavo as their patron, and he looks like the prototype for their race.

Local Detail:
The campaign will start out in the cosmopolitan throng of glittering Simashki, on the southern shore of the Indash Salt Sea, a vast body of water comparable to Lake Bonneville.  The Palar River enters the sea at Simashki, and river traffic from Simashki's ally, the city-state of Ishkur further upstream is a constant.  The dangerous and unpredictable clans of the Untash tribes wander the Shutruk savannas to the south.  Other city-states, each with their own philosophy on how to pick up the pieces of fallen Baal Hamazi, dot the Hamazi area as well.  Lately, refugees from the north have come by land and by water into Simashki, telling disturbing tales of Hutran Kutir, the semi-mythical founder of the Baal Hamazi empire itself, reborn and conquering his empire anew.  These rumors are to date very vague, and exactly what's going on in the north is anyone's guess--and everyone's speculation.  There are not yet so many refugees that Simashki is strained for resources, but the inns and streets are fuller than normal, and the sense of desperation is more palpable than normal.

Simashki is--like every city in any campaign I ever run--a wretched hive of scum and villainy.  Corrupt leaders, organized crime, dangerous cults, spies from other states--all are common in Simashki.  The shazada of Simashki, Taan Orakhun, has taken you into his confidence (kinda) and tasked you to be his secret problem-solving team.  Operating with little oversight and total deniability, you're often on your own with little direction from your nominal "boss" who keeps you well supplied with a generous stipend and small house to use as a base from which to operate in the city.  As such, you're the 5-O in Hamazi.

NPCs of Note (not meant to be a comprehensive list of everyone you know of in the city)
  • Taan Orakhun - the shazada.  The leader of the city-state of Simashki.  An elderly man who employs you, but you've only met him once, and he was distracted and patronizing.  You're not exactly sure what he wanted to engage you for, since his goals other than "keep an eye out for problems and solve them quietly" have not been well defined to you.
  • Tarana Matlat - a matronly hamazin woman with gray hair, a ready smile, and kindly gray eyes.  She's a ruthless crime boss who lives in the building across the street from you.
  • Holmgaut Savinkov - a butcher and meat-packer, who also runs a small restaurant with fresh meat on all items on the menu who lives near you.  He's a huge, middle-aged iron-haired southerner.  His sons Leonid and Sigulf, as well as his daughters (he has five) do most of the work now, and Holmgaut tries to get out of town as much as possible to hunt his own meat.  He's got a nearly encyclopedia-like knowledge of the local area for about a 15-20 mile radius.
  • Gia Azizaj - one of the least bestial-featured and most beautiful wildman women you've ever seen.  She's a bit of a local celebrity--famous for being famous, mostly, since her accomplishments that you know of are very small--who seems to be very well connected with the social elite.  
  • Lavinia Castracani - a minor bureaucrat from the far south on Taan Orakhun's staff.  At least, that's her cover.  In reality, she's his secret chief of staff and problem solver.  She's also your main contact and patroness, since the shazada himself keeps himself at arm's length.  Or further.
  • Gusztav Manyoki - a Tarushan "gypsy" who's quit his wandering days and set up shop in a permanently parked (because its axles are broken) colorful wagon near the smaller city cemetery.  He's also got a reputation with "those in the know" as an expert consultant on the occult and arcane, although nobody seems to have ever witnessed him perform any sorcery of his own.  He's very quiet about his past, and it's assumed that he had some kind of run-in with the vampire overlords of Tarush Noptii.
  • The Prophet - this nameless elderly Untash tribesman used to be seen as a fraud; his time preaching in the streets merely  a cover for his real work as a fence for stolen goods.  However, disconcertingly, suddenly his "prophecies" have started coming true with alarming regularity.  And now he hasn't been seen by anyone in a few days.

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